Daily Trojan Horse | Connect by disconnect: Pacific Asia Museum showcases work by Asian American artists
When USC Pacific Asia Museum curator Rebecca Hall began planning the ‘We Are Here: Contemporary Art and Asian Voices in Los Angeles’ exhibition in 2019, she didn’t expect the exhibition to end. within a week of its opening in March 2020. The exhibition finally had its heyday when the exhibition reopened for a week from May 29th. However, presenting the voices of artists of Asian American descent took on a whole new meaning a year later.
After falling in love with a book on traditional Thai textiles, Hall began studying and teaching Southeast Asian art history, which culminated in her position as museum curator at the USC Pacific Asia Museum. During his last three years at the Pacific Asia Museum, Hall noticed a disconnect between how Asian Americans felt and how they were portrayed in museums.
“I always felt that there was always a disconnect between lived experiences and museums, but I also heard people say that they thought the Pacific Asia Museum did not represent their communities and [that] they don’t feel any connection to what they were seeing, ”Hall said. “I think [it’s] because, when museums and collectors collect Asian art, [we] having that ideal perspective on what Asia is… and that doesn’t necessarily reflect the larger truth of the story.
With this disconnect in mind, Hall sought out seven Asian American female artists in Los Angeles to create an exhibit that expands viewers’ understanding of the vast and complex heritage of the Asia-Pacific. One artist featured in Hall’s exhibit is Mei Xian Qiu, an individual from an ethnic Chinese minority who was born in Java, Indonesia and immigrated to the United States following the communist genocide. With a Chinese name, an Indonesian name, and a Catholic name, Qiu draws inspiration from the hectic, diasporic experience of Asian Americans. During the exhibition, Qiu presented “Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom,” a collection of pieces that depicts the interplay between Western archetypes on what Chinese identity looked like and the self-constructed perception of what it was. Chinese identity, as a person who does not fully understand Chinese culture despite being ethnically Chinese herself. The pieces have a common theme of depicting Pan-Asian models dressed in stereotypical Chinese clothing from the Mao era, against American landmarks such as the White House and the Grand Canyon, or Western themes such as The Temptation of Eve.
“When you are a person from a certain diaspora… as opposed to someone who is in China from China, your identity is much clearer,” Qiu said. “But when you identify yourself as American or Indonesian or Chinese-American-Indonesian, there is kind of a mismatch between … how people perceive China – China as a country and who we are as Americans. . “
“Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom” featured photographs of a dystopian fictional mafia invasion led by Chinese and Pan-Asian American actors, but purposefully used tropes that Westerners would perceive as stereotypical Chinese. Qiu said she did a lot of research before this project because the topic was so complicated, as well as “extremely painful and intensely shared.”
“I am really interested in this idea of creating identities and also [in], not only the kind of propaganda that is put forward to make people believe in something, but [also] the type of stories we create to make sense of our own life in a way that we need to, ”Qiu said. “I think a lot of people have to create a reality that is meaningful to them these days, and that often contains elements of fiction and non-fiction.”
For Qiu, there is always an element of the artist’s humanity that goes into every work, and while what viewers take away is not always what the artist intended, the goal of Qiu is that his art asks questions that the viewer can answer.
“I did a lot of work on what Chinese meant coming from a culture where we were identified as Chinese but [were] has never really been part of mainstream Chinese culture, ”Qiu said.
As her journey as an artist has gone on, Qiu has thought about shifting her gaze to the Indonesian experience, as it is an underrepresented story for Western viewers.
Sharing the exhibition hall with Qiu is Sichong Xie, an interdisciplinary artist whose art addresses Chinese identity, politics and transculturalism. Xie presented a multimedia video and scaffolding installation titled “Do Donkeys Know Politics?” which tells the story of his grandfather, who was sent to a labor camp in China for drawing a political cartoon in the 1950s. Xie’s multimedia video consisted of five clips that showed the multiple iterations of drafts of cartoons as she received criticism from her grandmother while trying to redraw the cartoon based on her grandmother’s memories.
The scaffolding installation is representative of his grandfather’s architectural career and shows the temporary “invisible work” of construction workers that is lost once the architecture is completed. During the pandemic, Xie began work on her second scaffolding project which includes bamboo scaffolding that is popular in her hometown of Xi’an, China, as well as the embroidery of floor plans that her grand- father designed residential homes in the 1950s that were never built. Through embroidery, which is labor-intensive but meditating, Xie said she hopes to make the “invisible work” more visible to viewers. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Xie was unable to visit her family in Xi’an, but the distance motivated her to delve deeper into her grandfather’s story and channel her anxieties into art. .
After the exhibit closed abruptly in March, the USC Pacific Asia Museum was quick to transform the exhibit into a virtual format. Because Xie’s art is three-dimensional and performative, the transition of his projects to virtually consume has lost much of its depth.
“I feel like it’s a whole different experience to see a performance in person rather than seeing the documentation of it,” Xie said. “You don’t have a ladder in mind if you look at the sculpture from the computer screen. “
Qiu also believes that looking at art makes it virtually difficult to fully engage with it.
“A lot of my pieces have texture… and have been altered by non-mechanical means… where you have to see it because there is dimensionality. I think it’s easy to gloss over the work when you see it virtually, but it’s easier to engage in the work when you see it in person, ”Qiu said. “Maybe it’s not that confrontational, but it forces engagement, when you’re around [in that environment] … I went there in person after not seeing it for a long time, and it had a great effect on me.
Xie said that even though “Do donkeys know politics? Was completed in February 2020, since she hadn’t seen the installation for a year, it felt both old and new when the show reopened a few weeks ago. For Hall and all the artists who participated, seeing the exhibition with the lens of people who have recently experienced an upsurge in hatred of Asian Americans was very moving.
“I worked on the exhibit for a year before it opened, and then during COVID, when we were closed, all of our understanding – and I mean wider – the American understanding of AAPI experiences. [changed]. All of a sudden, the exhibition took on a whole new meaning, ”said Hall. “Selfishly, I really want everyone to love and understand the diversity of our Asian communities as much as I do.”
Creating a better understanding of the Pan-Asian experience may be popular in the media today because of the hatred of Asian Americans, but it has always been crucial in reducing the disconnect that people feel from the Asian diaspora in American society. Hall had been working on the show for over a year before it closed unexpectedly, and said it was “nice to have something that helps broaden our perspective on the subject” because there was “no way that we could have known what was going to happen. “
“I almost cried when I heard about the show, and I was really honored to be a part of it because I just felt like it was a voice we needed. having, kind of like the Asian American male voice. In Los Angeles, has there ever been a show like that? I just felt it was so important, “Qiu said.
Xie also said that many experiences are shared between different Pan-Asian heritages, which is why Hall’s position as a curator that covers such a wide geographic area allows her to build community instead of delving into the nuances of a particular region.
“It’s really interesting because every artist on this show – their story is so honest. And it’s a family and personal experience, ”said Xie. “All these issues and concerns that they raised in their work [are] It’s important to pay attention, especially if you don’t really know the different stories of the Asian community in Los Angeles.
The mismatch between Pan-Asian experiences and Pan-Asian representation in museums, media, and everyday life has compelled Hall to use her position as museum curator to deepen viewers’ understanding, especially during this time of heightened racial tension.
“I think what also drove me crazy is that every time you saw something in the press about Asian communities in LA, it was often about the food… I mean, who n don’t like it? But on the other hand, there is so much more complexity in these communities, ”Hall said. “I just wanted it to manifest. If someone comes through the exhibition without any knowledge and has an appreciation for the individuality of the artists… and a little deeper understanding of the AAPI experience, I would be very happy.
Although the exhibit’s in-person exhibit is already closed, the virtual exhibit is still accessible on the Pacific Asia Museum’s website, and the museum continues to do its part to educate viewers about the Pan-Asian experience.